Chapter 69: The Red-eyed man
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Gabriel wandered around in the Rain Season. They had given him a hood to keep down on his face, but he removed it after entering.

The man was alone, preferring solitude to even Gaia or Olivia's company. He caressed the table before sitting at the 'royal table' to look at the wholly exhausted laptop on the table and the folder full of paper.

The first thing he had done, when he entered, had been to check for the cameras entering the main PC, which handled cash operations. Enough to say, it had been entirely cleaned, cameras had been removed, the server had been crashed, the database had been wiped, and the register had been emptied.

As much unbelieving as it sounded, whoever had taken her wanted for it to look like a theft, maybe with kidnapping. However, it had all been done to surgically perfect. The level at which it had been committed was entirely unbelievable. No one would think a coordinated group of thieves/psychopaths had thoroughly gone through all the steps needed to rob a bank and never be found, for the measly few thousand dollars in the cash register and safe. Nobody would believe it, nobody except the police, of course.

The case had already been placed and scrutiny for changing it from kidnapping to insurance fraud and disappearance.

It had been all too fast. Thus, Gabriel couldn't help but suspect that whoever did that had its say in the local police, if not the administration itself.

He plugged the power cable and waited for Windows to boot up. His mother had yet to pass to an SSD. She liked her things as simple as if a change of hardware was hard. It was simple enough that Gabriel would have done it for her, and he was no engineer at all.

At that moment, he felt an urgency coming from his soul. Liz was coming out.

Most probably, Spirit Hiding had ended.

"Hey," he said weakly.

The lizard that had followed everything from inside jumped on his lap. Curled up, she was still able to stay there without giving him too much trouble. Though, her long tail, she had to leave dangling on the ground.

It was a couple of hours later when Olivia and Gaia entered to find him still reading her documents.

"How are you doing?" Olivia asked, leaning by the wall. Gaia instead joined him, sitting on a chair.

Gabriel snorted, then he said to Gaia, "She had almost got you. Look at how close she got to you. However, that is not what impresses me. I want to know what your connection to this line of Walkers was." Roughly handing her the paper with his family name scribbled on, Gabriel got up.

On second thought, Gabriel turned back, putting back all the papers but the one he had given to Gaia in the folder, and collecting them with the laptop to take with him.

"Let's leave," he said, eyeing Olivia, but that was when he heard a voice saying, "You cannot enter. It's still under investigation!" and one responding, "What are you talking about? Let me in; the investigation has already been done!"

Gabriel, surprised, handed the laptop and folder to Olivia and ran for the door. He could clearly hear Gaia say, "Fuck…"

Bursting the door open, he found her right in front of him. Raina.

She was screaming at the two men, who had remained with a car, and the other car had left.

"Wait, Gabriel, you can't!" Came Gaia's voice, but it was too late.

When Raina turned her eyes to the opening door, she met Gabriel's. Her hands found her mouth in utter astonishment. Followed a series of complex emotions culminating with tears and her running at him.

Gabriel took her in a huge hug, easily lifting her up and pirouetting with him. Soon later, he saw Antonio descend, with a look of disbelief on his face. He ran at them, raising them both up in a hug.

"What the hell happened to you!?" They asked, almost in a choir.

"A lot of things… a whole lot of things guys… I can't begin to tell; really, I don't even know where to start," he turned behind him, where Gaia and Olivia were waiting, Olivia with a gentle face, Gaia with one of terror. "I don't even know if I should start telling you at all."

Raina's face, though with glasses when she didn't work, suddenly shifted her expression to one of shock. She stopped and backtracked, terrified. Liz was standing on her hind-legs behind Gabriel; her head bent to the side to study them.

"Watch out, man! Komodo Dragons are venomous!" Tony said, backing away, Raina hiding behind him.

Gabriel smiled weakly. It was good to find relief in his friends' novel reactions.

"Don't worry. This one is Liz, she's my… faithful companion. Those," he added, gesturing at the girl, "Are Gaia the one with weird colored hair, and Olivia."

"Weird colored…"

After they stiffly exchanged pleasantries, Raina started asking questions, like the train she was.

"Where have you been? Do you have any idea what we went through? What did your mother go through?" Then she lowered her voice and whispered to him, "Did you have to disappear to go with hookers!?"

Thankfully the two girls did not have Enhanced Senses, but Gabriel couldn't help but choke a laugh at that.

He shook his head, "Nothing like that. As I've told you, I've been… differently placed… It's something I can't talk about, not for now. Not for your well being anyway. Let's call it CIA things."

Raina, arms crossed, looked at him, then answered, jabbing a finger on his chest, "Listen here, if you think you're going to cut it with that crap- ouch!" She took her finger away and placed it in her mouth.

"What the hell, Gabriel? Why are you so tough?"

Antonio looked quizzed. "Yeah…" he added, "you've certainly got meatier. Have you been hitting the gym?"

"Among other things… yes," however, his morale was clear for all to see. So Raina clearly shifted approach.

"Gabe, do you know anything about your mother? The cops say she's run away with the money, but they're full of crap, and that's simply not her… did you take her away to wherever you've gone, by any chance?" She asked, eyes pleading. "Because if it's like that, then please, return her!"

"Sadly, I didn't. I just came back and found out. And now I have to go, but I need a favor of you." Without waiting for their answer, he continued, "I need my disappearance to stay as-is. Don't tell anyone. I'm afraid that things will get rougher if it's found out I've come back here."

"What does that even mean? Gabe! You can't do this!" She said, but Tony placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I think Gabe has his reason for doing what he's doing. He's never abandoned his mother once in his life. Do you think he'd start now?" Said the big fellow.

Raina closed her mouth shut, lowering her gaze.

"Thank you; I’m leaving now. But I promise that everything will go back to… maybe not normal, but working. Oh, and I'll make sure to manage your financial aid until then. However, I won't return to work here anymore. I've found something else. My mother, though, she will return, I swear on everything I held dear." His tone was frigid in that last part.

Antonio nodded, and Raina bit her lips. "Gabriel, are you gonna do something dangerous?"

Gabriel was taken aback, taking his time to answer. Too much time for the sharp as a knife girl.

"That was a yes… Gabriel, I swear if you get yourself killed, again. I'm… I'm never going to forgive you. Ever," she said.

"I don't plan on dying. Don't worry." Though if it is needed to save her, I gladly will.

"We need to leave, Gabe," said Gaia.

Gabriel nodded and said goodbye once more. Liz followed him, still walking on her two legs, her long tail swaying with her hips.

Once they were in the car, Olive asked, "Who were they? You looked really close."

"Colleagues, friends. Especially Raina. It's hard to find someone like her. She's the reason why this restaurant stands. Without her, I would have been lost," he admitted shaking his head. "I'll make sure she gets what I owe her."

 

***

 

They went back to Gaia's home, and for the first time, Gabriel passed the little forest and finally arrived at their mansion.

House Reevers other than gigantic, it was… practical. It spawned on a soccer field of space, stands included. From the outside, it showed to be split into three big buildings, two wings at the side and an enormous construct at the center. Each sub-building had two floors to it.

All around the perimeter of the house opened a vast porch with roman columns supporting it.

Gabriel noticed that the right-wing was more 'open from the edges of the forest. He could notice that its shapes suggested that of a massive dojo. Nonetheless, it was connected to the central part by a two-level corridor.

However, they headed to the central building. Two guards standing close let them pass, saluting Gaia with a bow.

Gabriel thought it weird if the guards were Alter-forged, so he focused his Spirit Sight, which overlapped with Mana Sight. After an initial period of assessment, both of them remained inactive, or at least they were most of the time, only really getting into focus when he spotted something out of the ordinary. He had grown used to Aura, for example. During his time in The Memory. So he hadn't given much thought to Gaia's Aura, though it surprised seeing only one of them having it. However, now that he thought about it, neither Olivia nor Darte had them.

It must be a Perk. They might have chosen something else or not reached the level. After all, there doesn't seem to be a direct use to it. I wonder which type of build relies on it.

Inside the mansion, money started speaking for itself; art in clear exposition, grand chandeliers, carpets. It looked like wealth itself had taken to live inside of it.

"This place… puts monarchy to shame," Gabriel let out between his teeth.

"Yeah… mom was everything, but modest." Gaia chuckled.

"Was?"

"She passed away eight years ago."

Eight years? He thought, Coincidences.

"I'm sorry to hear that. However, it seems you came out good; your father must have been a strong and caring parent," he said to the girl.

She limited herself to nod, a hint of pride on her face.

"It's that fellow enveloped in darkness, isn't it? Will we meet him? He looked dreadfully powerful."

"Yeah, I think so. Maybe he's still in Alter-"

"Dad will not be coming," said the voice of a young man. It was Darte. He was descending the stairs. He had a maple and black robe on him and looked half-way between pissed and, weirdly, sad.

"Why? Did something happen in The Cradle?"

Darte shook his head. "Jiao has been killed."

Gaia was taken aback, stopping in place. Olivia made a dejected expression, but only for a second before her eyes shone green for a moment. Nobody but Gabriel noticed. Or so he thought, given the lack of reactions.

"When?"

"In Kanceldom. Fucking Red Tom… I guess dad is going to be chasing Priests for a while. The front against the Priests in The Vast is going to take a whole other level of attention," Darte answered.

"Jiao…" Gaia took a long breath, "Darte could you show them the house and maybe have them meet with the Elder? Gabriel might have critical information. I need to.. Change. I need to change," she said, her gaze distant. Then climbing the stairs, she turned around, addressing them, "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. The Elder already has two cameras prepared for you to stay as long as you like. You can bathe, rest, do whatever you want, and ask for whatever you desire. No compliments."

"Come, I'll show you where you'll stay first. There's quite a lot to process today," he turned toward Olivia, "for all of us."

Olivia turned her head slightly to the side, then followed him.

 

They learned that their guest room would be on the first floor of the house, together with those of the guards and the owners. While all the accessory rooms were upstairs, on the second floor. There was the world in there, or so it seemed from what Darte was telling.

Darte's speech was a well reversed one. He had probably already given it dozens of times; however, Gabriel didn't give it too much thought. His conscience was screaming at him that he had to find his mother and do whatever was necessary to get her. No matter how much he despised Killing and wanted to refrain from doing it, being fed up about it during The Memory, he'd gladly slaughter all those that would pave in his way if it meant freeing his mother.

Darte showed Gabriel to his room, a fancy three-stanzas room with top-level hotel furniture and comforts.

Gabriel saluted them, with Darte saying that there would be a meeting later in the day, and he closed the door after Liz.

Taking in his guest room, the first thing he noticed was that there wasn't a sliver of dust. The room was crystal clear. How? Do they call for a cleaning company? I haven't seen even one helper around. Only guards; guards everywhere. Are the guards on cleaning duties too? Or maybe it's the place. It's so big that I have yet to see any other worker.

In the end, he simply undressed and went to look for the bathroom. Of course, there was a jacuzzi in it. He shook his head. Gaia's mother must have spent billions on this? Only this room must be worth around five bricks.

He relaxed like he hadn't done in quite a while. Of course, it lasted just a couple of minutes before his mind started racing again. He had left the house tub before he noticed, and after picking clothes, which fit him strangely well. Gabriel turned on the laptop and got back into researching what his mother was looking into.

Unexpectedly it slanted toward Gaia's family, but the connection with this so-called Walker family left him baffled. There was no real evidence of being the same people. However, he had a gut feeling that it was. His mother was stubborn in every which way possible, and her instinct rarely had failed her. So, if she was following this route, it meant something.

He would follow it too.

 

It had been hours of theories from Gabriel, looking at the bed ceiling while Liz slept by him. When someone knocked on his door, he invited them in as they both got up.

It was Gaia. She came to tell him that they were ready to meet.

Gabriel, the soon collected, Olive, and Gaia headed to the ground floor. When Gabriel said, "It's the second time today that I have to give you my condolences. Alter sure is a violent world. It was that amazingly tough woman that wouldn't want to let us go, right?"

She nodded. "She has been, or… tried to be a mother figure for me, ever since my mother died. But… life is complicated, and I focused on other details. I should have…" she shook her head, "Look at me rambling. I'm sorry. I should be a leader, and instead, I'm as weak and pathetic as-" Gabriel did not allow her to finish, taking her by the arm.

"What are you talking about? Who says you are supposed to be damn general? It's not from lack of feelings that strength comes from. It's the opposite. You should never hide them, revel them. That's what differentiates us from a monster," he said. He knew it was cringe-worthy, but at least it was what he actually felt. His mother had thought of him. True strength stems from love. When it has a different origin, it's not true strength, just another facet of fear.

It was clear she wasn't satisfied by the clichè topic, she was roughly his own age, and he barely really understood it himself, yet she showed him a gentle smile, a rare thing in such occasions.

"Thank you," she said tentatively, then carried on. Distantiating just that much, he could not say why. Maybe Olivia knew, though, because she gave him a nudge and a wink. Gabriel sincerely was just confused at that point. So he just shrugged and followed after her.

They got to a big room, inside of it was a massive round table yet, sitting by it were only the Elder and Darte. A tall man and another shorter man stood beside the Elder. They were dressed and definitely acted like butlers; when Gabriel looked at them more attentively, he understood that the taller man was not a man. He was an elf, and the same could be said about the Elder; his round ears were gone, and the big, rough pointy end had sprouted over the course of a day or so.

What the hell?

The Elder and Darte got up at their entrance, and someone who wasn't there before bowed too. Scaring the crap out of Gabriel and Olive, Darte didn't hide a low chuckle.

The woman was entirely dressed in black armored leather. The armor was made of scales. They looked like scales from dragons one could see in a movie or cartoon. She, like the butlers, had a smug expression on his face. It was pure confidence.

Gabriel and the other took their seats. They saw the Elder raise again and looked at the door. It slammed open. Entered a broad-shouldered, stout man and a tall, big-mustached fellow who looked like he was still sleeping.

"Since we are all here, the meeting may begin. Carlos, take note of the presence of our guests. And their leave once the quota of information concerning them will be concluded," ordered the Elder.

The human butler started writing.

"Since no one is going to present themselves, I'll start," said Gabriel getting up.

I wonder if it's related to the existence of Analyze.

"I'm sorry young man; we’re just not used to it anymore. We've heard a lot about you two, and maybe it's only right that we give you our names first," said the big man.

"I'm Jackson Reevers, at your service."

It was the tall man's turn, but before he could speak, the woman spoke first with a grin. "Harper Reevers, assassin."

The tall man smiled but presented himself, "William Reevers, marksman of gusto."

Gabriel nodded at each, then looked over to the butlers. The head butlers looked at the Elder for confirmation. "Kelvhan," he said, without adding anything else.

"With a bitter smile, the other butler joined in. Wang Fang Liu, I believe you've met my mother."

At that, both Gabriel and Olive were taken aback. Gabriel immediately gave him his sympathies. After a few seconds, so did Olivia, though he could clearly see her fists tightening behind the table.

"Alright, now the first topic of conversation," started the Elder, "A topic we have avoided for far too long. I hoped I would have to tackle it with Lorad's presence. But he will not be coming. So, I am forced to continue. Before this can last no more," he took a breath, "We are here to talk about the so-called Red Tom, or more appropriately. Thomas Redmond Walker."

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